Quail & Autumn Flowers | Kano school sliding doors by Sakuma Seigaku (1819-1889)



Sakuma Seigaku (1819-1889) 佐久間晴岳

Quail and Autumn Flowers

Late Edo period, Circa 1850.

Pair of framed door panels. Mineral pigments, ink and gofun on gold leaf.

Signature: Seigaku  晴嶽


Top seal: unread

Bottom seal: Shosetsu  焦雪

Dimensions (framed):

Each panel: H. 43 cm x W. 80 cm (17” x 31.5”)


A pair of small Japanese Kano school sliding door panels from the mid 19th century. These panels would have been used in the tokonoma or alcove of a substantial residence, either monastic or of the warrior class. The Kano school of the 19th century operated much as it did in the 17th century, working together with the Tokugawa regime and providing art for its religious and military considerations, rather than a public constituency.

In Japanese art, paintings of birds and flowers are appreciated primarily for their evocation of the seasons and the traditional poetic emotions associated with it. The calls of the quail, like the cries of deer, are particularly associated with autumn and reflections on the temporaneous nature of life. In this set of panels, along with the overreaching reeds, the depiction of other autumn flowers such as Chinese bellflowers create the seasonal setting for the quail. Being a work of the Kano school, it likely had a serious subtext that colored the dominant meaning. Here, the subject of quail, being delightful in itself, also puns on the auspicious meaning of ‘peace’ in both the Japanese and Chinese languages.

Japanese Kacho-e, or bird and flower painting, follows on from a long tradition in Chinese painting. Chinese Song dynasty paintings of quail were originally brought to Japan in the Muromachi period by the ruling Ashikaga clan and have been greatly admired and emulated since. The quail is intimately associated with artists of the Japanese Tosa school and in particular Mitsuoki. On hanging scrolls they painted the jewel-like works with finely executed line and brilliant color. Works by Kano school artists depicting quail in autumn tend to be executed on a smaller, more intimate scale, much like the original Song dynasty paintings. Paintings on the subject on a grander scale and for more conspicuous viewing, such as this set of sliding panels, are quite uncommon.

The paintings have been mounted on panels, the frames of roiro mirror-polished, black lacquer. Conservation, mounting and framing undertaken in Kyoto utilizing traditional techniques and craftsmen. 

Sakuma Seigaku (1819-1885) was the son of artist Sakuma Rokusho who painted directly for the Mutsu samurai clan in Sendai, northern Japan. Seigaku went to Edo where he studied under the Kobikicho Kano artist Kano Seisen’in Osanobu (1796-1846). After returning to Sendai he was involved in a rebellion with his clan leader Shibata Mimbu, for which they were both imprisoned. After the Meiji restoration of 1868 they were released and Seigaku went on to establish a school for the teaching of Chinese studies. Seigaku is listed as an artist of the Kobikicho Kano school. Work(s) by the artist are held in the Tokyo National Museum.